The stone edifice was impeccably clean, white granite facing out at the black asphalt of an empty city street. The block was government zoned, and that meant police enforcement at every corner.
Alan was uneasily standing across the road with a bag slung over his slouching left shoulder. His amber eyes stared up at the light-blotting structure, shadow reaching out toward him.
A voice broke Alan’s concentration. He looked to his left and saw a large man in military gear staring back intensely. His eyes were covered with sunglasses with a mask covering his mouth.
“Do you have papers?” The man pressed, a condescending finger pointing sharply at Alan.
Alan pulled his bag up to his hip nervously and pulled a crinkled red slip of paper from its container. The man snatched the paper from Alan’s hand, his head bending down to acknowledge he was reading Alan’s credentials.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I couldn’t…”
The man shoved the paper back in Alan’s chest and pointed across the street.
“Move along, freak.”
Alan’s face tensed at the word.
“Did you hear me? Move along. Don’t make me call it in.”
Alan nodded nervously and set a foot onto the asphalt to show the officer he was en route. The man turned away and began walking back down the sidewalk towards another police officer. Alan took quick short steps all the way across the street and up to the white government office building.
The words were etched perfectly into the stone face: The United States Department for Mutated Persons, precinct 305. Not a scrap of trash around the entrance. Nobody for miles, aside from law enforcement. Alan mused that this was a small reminder of the times they were living in. It was a distinct contrast from what his parents used to talk about, the stories they painted, and the people they were. But that was then and this was now.
Alan pushed his way through the revolving doorway of the 305 building, and was met with a cold, high-ceilinged room with granite floor tiles and marble columns. At the end of the long room stood a granite lobby desk with a woman sitting behind it, typing and answering the entryway phone. She did not look up when she entered, nor did she give any indication that she had even remotely recognized his presence in the empty room.
Alan cleared his throat. The woman looked up, her eyes annoyed and bored. She looked back down at her computer screen, without regard for Alan once again. Alan walked up to the desk and slipped his bag onto the floor.
“Please do not leave your things on the floor,” the woman sighed. Alan reluctantly pulled the bag back up over his shoulder. “Papers.”
Alan held out his red slip of paper, and the woman took it without looking at him.
“I wasn’t sure if I should call ahead, but obviously you’ve got a lot of people today,” Alan joked hesitantly, looking around at the empty room. The woman didn’t look up, and instead ran a black pen across the red paper in a rote, measured movement she’d likely done thousands of times before.
“Take this in, and Secretary Hollins will be with you shortly, Mr. Mitchell.”
Alan nodded silently; the woman never made eye contact again and thus did not acknowledge his nonverbal. “Move along.”
The woman’s desk phone rang again – one ring – and she picked it up almost instantly. Alan walked past her to the glazed door behind the desk, and entered into the office of Secretary Roger Hollins. Hollins was standing behind a giant oak desk, a tiny American flag nestled inside a coffee cup on top.
“Let’s see the paper, son,” Hollins barked, his hand out in waiting. Alan handed over the red slip and sat down. “That won’t be necessary.”
Alan stood back up awkwardly, his bag falling down into the seat below.
“Don’t scuff the leather, son.”
Alan pulled the backpack to his shoulder again, the skin feeling raw beneath his worn cotton hooded sweatshirt. Hollins, a tall blocky man with gray hair and large, blunt nose, stared at Alan’s red paper through cheater eyeglasses. He groaned, his lips pursing and parting as he read the slip to himself. He looked up from the paper at the skinny boy, no older than seventeen years, staring awkwardly at the floor.
“Magnetism, huh? Alright, then,” Hollins sighed and pressed the intercom button on his desk phone, “Miss Doland, please call the transport. We’ll be sending Mr. Mitchell to the 308.”
The phone hung up, and Hollins pulled his finger back. He took out a black pen from his coffee cup, shaking the flag in the process. He made a few marks, and then signed the bottom half.
“You will exit this building, give this paper to the driver outside, and find your quarters at the 308 station house. They will be expecting you in one hour, so don’t think you can lag behind on this. Dismissed.”
Hollins handed Alan the red paper back, and pointed to the door. Alan walked out into the empty room, where Miss Doland was still busily talking on the phone while simultaneously doing her clerical work. Alan looked down at the paper:
Confirmed mutation. Designated for work. 308.
Hollins’s signature was scrawled in the bottom right corner, a sloppy cursive that Alan only guessed was his name. Alan wondered why people wrote their names in such a haphazard, rushed manner.
“Please wait outside,” Miss Doland said in a cold, threatening manner, her arm outstretched and pointing toward the exit.
Alan put his head down and walked outside, where a white transit van was now waiting for him. The streets were still empty aside from the van, and the law enforcement agents walking back and forth in precise formation. Alan opened the back passenger door and stepped into the pristine van.
“Alan Mitchell?” a screen lit up, a digital flutter in its voice. The computer prompt popped up on the panel that would’ve been the driver’s headrest. The van was empty, a self-driving model implemented by the government to transport the mutated so as to encourage class distinction. The prompt displayed Alan’s full name, a question mark, with a yes or no option below. Alan pressed his finger to the glass.
“Thank you. Setting destination: work precinct, designation 308. Please buckle your seatbelt.”
Alan lifted his hand, and watched as the metal seat buckle floated up in the air around his lap. Using his powers in a non-government sanctioned fashion felt like one last act of defiance. The buckle rolled over itself, resisting Alan’s palm as he moved it back and forth in midair.
“Please fasten your seatbelt now.”
The voice was monotone, but to Alan it felt authoritative and angry. Alan snapped out of his trance and put the belt down with his hands. He shoved his bag off to the other seat, and watched the windows around him self tint. People on the streets wouldn’t even know it was him. They wouldn’t know where he was going, what he was doing. He was redacted. Soon, his own parents would cease to remember the little boy who had broken the backyard slide by popping all of the screws out at once. That boy was gone anyway. Now, the man would be gone too. And nobody cared.